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Friday, September 10, 2010

Writing Historical Fiction, part 6 The Voice of the Times and Culture

I'm not certain there is any writing that is easy.  All writing is difficult, but I think historical fiction may be the most difficult.  First, it requires a lot of research and especially primary and secondary source research (real research) that is if you intend to write good historical fiction.  Second, you must immerse yourself in the culture and understand it from the point of a participant.  Third, you have to be able to find the voice of the times and culture.  The voice of the times and culture is the point of immersion and research.  Fourth, you have to be able to write well.  The fourth point is beyond the scope of this series, but is is a critical point.  Many of us have read literature today that is crippled by the inability of the author to write well.  Many popular books are missing the spark of good writing and makes you wonder why they were published to begin with.  But back to the third point...if you can't capture the voice of the times and culture, your historical fiction will not be historical fiction, it will be a modern novel set in a historical period.  That simple observation has been my greatest experience with writing that claims to be historical fiction today.  Most is not historical at all, but rather modern fiction set in a historical period.  When you find modern issues and modern ideas along with historical infidelity in a historical novel, that writer has not taken the three required steps to write about the times.  So how do you find the voice of the times?  That is a function of immersion and knowledge, but the precise point is that you have to subjugate your mind to the mind of the times.  Now comes the difficult point.  To have the voice of the times and culture means the ability to convey that time and culture to your readers in the modern world.  I personally use many genre crossing techniques to allow a modern person to see the times and culture through the eyes of the modern world.  The normal technique in historical fiction is the one from my novel Centurion uses the typical model of simply a novel from the viewpoint of the people of the times.  There are no tricks and there is no ability or basis for comparison with the modern world.  The novel unfolds as a normal piece of historical fiction writing.  In The Second Mission, I use time travel as a technique to move the reader into the past.  This method allows the writer to make comparisons and to convey the period through the eyes of a modern person.  It also allows comparisons with a future world or ideas.  This is a complex method and requires the author to be strongly consistent in immersion and research.  If the comparisons aren't there, then their is no purpose in using this technique.  The third method I have used (by no means the last) is using a fantastic means to pull people from the past into the present.  Aegypt takes place in 1926 and pulls a being from the 18th Egyptian dynasty (1539 to 1295 BC) into that place and time.  The comparisons here and the power in the novel is the ability to see the world in the French Foreign Legion in Tunisia in 1926, the period of great archaeological discoveries in Egypt, plus the comparison of the world from the eyes of a person from classical Egypt.  And that ultimately is the power of historical fiction.  It allows the author to present the past as it was and lets the reader see the differences in the times and culture.  Tomorrow, I'll expand on this.

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